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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

House subcommittee holds hearing on HSR


Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a hearing on the opportunities and challenges of developing high-speed rail in the United States.

Witnesses included: Robert Baugh, executive director of the Industrial Union Council AFL-CIO; Frank Busalacchi, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition; Thomas Carper, Amtrak’s chairman; Susan Fleming, director of the Government Accountability Office; Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads; Michael Pracht, president and chief executive officer of US Railcar L.L.C.; Nicholas Rubio, president of Cintra US; Robert Scardelletti, president of the Transportation Communications International Union; Patrick Simmons, rail division director for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials); Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; and Petra Todorovich, director of America 2050.

The following are sound bites from the various testimonies.

Ed Hamberger
• “Reshaping the nation’s passenger transportation system with expanded rail choices will bring significant challenges. One of the most important of these challenges is finding the most effective way for freight and passenger railroads to partner in a way that provides the passenger-rail service that America wants and needs, but without operationally or financially burdening our nation’s freight-rail system.”

• “Great care must be taken to ensure that there is enough capacity for current and future freight and passenger-rail service, and that partnerships between host freight railroads and high-speed rail operators protect the business needs and address the responsibilities of both parties.”

• “Freight railroads recognize that because of the expense involved and other reasons, it will be challenging in many instances for passenger-rail operators to acquire their own completely separate rights of way. As a result, high-speed passenger rail will, in many cases, have to share tracks, or at least right of way, with freight railroads. Agreements that grant access to privately owned freight-rail networks must be negotiated on a voluntary, case-by-case basis and must address site-specific safety, operational, compensation and legal issues.”

Frank Busalacchi
• “Opportunities and challenges represent two sides of the same coin. Right now, we have an unprecedented level of funding approved by Congress to take the first steps toward expanding our passenger-rail network and achieving our passenger-rail vision. But on the other side of the funding opportunity coin — the challenge — is that we build the right projects, use the available funds wisely and plan for the future.”

• “The federal government and states need to think strategically about expanding the passenger-rail network. We need to work toward a long-term vision. All states are at different phases of rail network development. A phased approach will allow states that are ready to go to start constructing their projects, while states that are not ready can work on their planning and environmental processes with some confidence that they will receive federal funds to build their projects in a later phase.”

• “Our country needs to attract train manufacturers; to make this happen, these manufacturers need a reliable revenue stream they can trust to make economic investments in plants and equipment. We need a coordinated national effort to ensure that states are working together to assure that we get economies of scale in the pricing of train cars and interoperability of train cars.”

• “In a very short time, the Federal Railroad Administration has had to recreate itself and rethink its mission. It has had to move from being almost exclusively a regulatory organization to having the added responsibility of assuring that billions of dollars in federal grant funds will be spent wisely and efficiently. They need additional resources that should be provided as this committee works on its reauthorization policy development.”

Susan Fleming
“Several principles could guide the effective use of the recovery act funds and any future federal investments in high-speed and other intercity passenger rail. These principles include establishing clear federal objectives and stakeholder roles, clearly identifying expected outcomes, basing decisions on reliable ridership and other forecasts and reexamining how intercity passenger rail service fits in with other federal surface transportation programs. In addition, determining which, if any, high-speed rail projects may eventually be economically viable will depend on an accurate determination of such factors as ridership potential, costs and public benefits. These projects also face many challenges, such as securing significant up-front investment for construction costs; sustaining public, political and financial support; and resolving outstanding liability issues.”

Michael Pracht
Pracht emphasized the need to support American manufacturing and American jobs as part of the nation’s commitment to improved passenger-rail service. He asked the subcommittee to support the Ohio Rail Development Commission’s application for federal funding to develop a rail-car manufacturing facility in Gahanna, Ohio. Pracht also stressed the need for federal high-speed rail research and development, and passenger-rail equipment standardization, and urged consistent enforcement of Buy America standards.

John Mica, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leader
“We must invest this funding where it makes the most sense. We have to focus on areas where there is the greatest demand for high-speed rail, like the Northeast Corridor. We must also leverage federal dollars with other funding sources at the state and local level, and the private sector in order to be able to achieve the level of investment necessary.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/15/2009